To make this observatory project to become a reality, I’ve got a lot of planning to do! Part of that is figuring out what it takes to set up at the remote site and how to make that as easy as possible, and I’ve already made several trips out. Here are some of the first night sky images I’ve captured on those trips, as well as a few little projects that will make visiting easier.
After backpacking out of the Olympic Mountains, we made our way south to our final stop in the Pacific Northwest, Mount Saint Helens. My favorite shot of the trip almost got us stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve described at length many of the techniques I use to shoot nightscapes. In this tutorial series, I’d like to keep things much shorter and pick apart some of my photos with minimal step-by-step instructions. The shot we’ll be going over this time was taken at 11,000 feet in Carson National Forest.
A couple of months ago, I started looking around for land to serve as a remote observatory site. I’m excited to say that today, we’ve closed on a piece of land where we’ll build Face of the Deep Observatory! Here’s how it all went down.
The Celestron C11 Starbright SCT (pre-XLT coatings), weighing nearly 30 lbs and large enough to hold a basketball inside it, is a large telescope. With a native focal length of 2800mm and 280mm (11 inches) of aperture (F/10), it’s a long, slow scope and requires a substantial mount. Its field of view is too narrow for a supermoon to fit inside an APS-C sized sensor, even when reduced to F/6.3 (1760mm-equivalent), so it’s best-suited for shooting globular clusters, galaxies further than Andromeda, and planetary imaging. Below is a summary of tests I’ve performed on this telescope in conjunction with Celestron’s F/6.3 Reducer Corrector.
The following 100%-crop mosaic was made with a Canon EOS70D. No filters were used for this test, although it’s possible to attach 2-inch filters using a Blue Fireball SCT Eyepiece Holder with any 2-inch nosepiece adapter threaded for filters, or in conjunction with the Orion Thin Off-Axis Guider.
Figure 1: Single exposure of Messier 13 taken with a Canon EOS 70D (unmodified), 120 seconds, ISO 400. Several dozen exposures, including this one, were stacked to create the image of the Great Cluster in Hercules in Figure 3 below.
Some color fringing is present, but it isn’t anything that can’t be dealt with in post. What’s disappointing is that the corners and edges exhibit elongation of the stars, so it appears that the field curvature native to the telescope itself is not well-corrected throughout the entire APS-C frame.
Below is a contoured image created from flats produced by a Canon EOS 70D.
Figure 2: Vignetting profile for the Canon EOS 70D.
In the extreme corners and edges, more than 50% of light gathered in the center is lost. The end result is that these extreme edges must be cropped out in most final versions of processed images. The odd shape of the contour in the upper left is caused by the prism of the Orion TOAG just barely sticking into the path of light reaching the 70D’s sensor, between it and the Reducer/Corrector, so this is not a deficiency of the Reducer/Corrector.
All telescopes of Schmidt-Cassegrain design project a curved field of sharp focus, so a field flattener must be used to get decent image quality when using larger sensors. The Celestron F/6.3 Reducer/Corrector provides some level of flattening, but not all the way to the edge of an APS-C sensor. Micro Four Thirds sensors will fare much better where flat fields are concerned. This corrector also may be somewhat soft, although it’s hard to tell if the softness in my images is coming from the corrector, bad seeing, or bad focus (I did use a Bahtinov mask). Perhaps a comparison with either of the available Starizon SCT Correctors is warranted.
Figure 3: Messier 13, taken with a Canon EOS 70D.
Figure 4: Messier 101, taken with a Canon EOS 60Da.
Figure 5: Messier 81, taken with a Canon EOS 60Da.
Over the past year, my career path changed, and so did my budget for gear, so I stopped buying it. What might seem like a downside for my toys turned into an upside for my processing skills. Here’s what I learned in a year.
Awhile back, I converted a NexStar 11 GPS OTA to forkless with the intention of using it for long-exposure deep sky astro-photos. It’s been a long road, but things are starting to work out.
One of my dreams since I was a kid was to have my own observatory. Now with a family of my own, including two rambunctious boys who love to explore and build things, I’ve decided to pursue that dream and document it as we go along. This new blog series is all about the trials and triumphs of the entire process, unfiltered and unabridged.
A few friends and I took a trip this past weekend to the El Malpais National Monument to watch the total lunar eclipse. Here’s a recap of the trip.
The Explore Scientific ED127CF Triplet APO is the first refractor telescope I have ever owned. With a native focal length of 952mm and 127mm (5 inches) of aperture (F/7.5), it lives somewhere between the “wide field” 80mm refractors and the longer SCTs used for planetary imaging, both in terms of field of view and imaging “speed”. When coupled with Explore Scientific’s 0.7x Reducer/Corrector, the ED127CF widens to an equivalent focal length of 666mm and faster focal ratio of F/5.25. Here are some star quality tests shot with this scope/reducer combo.
The following 100%-crop mosaics were made using a Canon 6D and a Canon 60Da to show the differences in corner/edge performance between Full-Frame and APS-C sensor sizes. No filters were used as the 0.7x Reducer/Corrector does not provide any means of attaching filters (although some have made modifications to do so).
Figure 1: Single exposure taken with a Canon EOS 6D (unmodified), 180 seconds, ISO400. Several dozen exposures, including this one, were stacked to create the star field background in the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse photo in Figure 5 below. The eclipse itself was also shot on the same ES ED127CF + 0.7x Reducer/Corrector with the same EOS 6D body.
Figure 2: Single 4-minute exposure taken with a Canon EOS 60Da, 240 seconds, ISO800. Several dozen 4-minute exposures, including this one, were stacked to create the image of the Pleiades in Figure 6 below.
In both of these images, some color fringing is present in high-contrast areas, but the amount of Chromatic Aberration present is nothing that can’t be dealt with in post (see sample images below to see how it can still be removed after heavy processing). What’s great about both of these mosaics is that there is very little elongation of stars at the corners, both for APS-C and Full Frame sensors. Coma and astigmatism are both very well-controlled, all the way to the edges.
Below are two contoured images created from flats produced with both the Canon EOS 6D and EOS 60Da. This is where the similarities in performance for both sensor sizes end.
Figure 3: Vignetting profile for the Canon EOS 6D.
Figure 4: Vignetting profile for the Canon EOS 60Da.
As you can see, the vignetting on the EOS 6D is severe with less than 30% of the light coming in at the center reaching the corners. This can result in unwanted processing artifacts appearing in the corners of your images as soon as you calibrate your subs. On the other hand, vignetting on the EOS 60Da is almost non-existent with nearly 90% of the light present in the center still reaching the corners.
The Explore Scientific ED127CF is a great piece of hardware for the money, yielding fantastic images given the right sensor size. While it’s unfortunate that the vignetting ends up being so severe for the extreme corners of full-frame sensors, APS-C sensors fare much better. Even so, great images can still be made with full-frame sensors, given the right observing conditions. One of my favorite full-frame images captured with this setup is my shot of the 2017 Solar Eclipse, shown below. Barring another Solar Eclipse outing, however, I think I’ll stick to APS-C sensors on this particular combo.
Figure 5: 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, taken near Douglas, WY, with a Canon EOS 6D. Prints available.
Figure 6: The Pleiades, captured with a Canon EOS 60Da. Prints available.